What Is Journalism

Last Updated on August 28, 2023

Journalism started in the 15th century as a method of obtaining information, usually about new discoveries and events. Journalists provide facts to the public and tend to serve a local or global cultural function. The term has been derived from the French word “journal” which means daily record. The roots of journalism date back to Roman and Chinese journalists, with some views hailing as far back as Athens. Journalism evolved from the ancient combination of arts and communication skills, requiring a cross between newswriter, editor, reporter, author, publisher and critic.

Journalism is created for the purpose of disseminating information to the general public.  The work must be based on a wide range of sources, and not just one original source.  The purpose of is journalism is to promote a particular agenda or viewpoint.  The work can be unbiased if the writer has complied with all ethical standards as established by the industry.     

What Is Journalism?

Journalism is the production and distribution of reports on the interaction of events, facts, ideas, and people that are the “news of the day” and that informs society to at least some degree. The word applies to the occupation (professional or not), the methods of gathering information, and the organizing literary styles. Journalistic media include: print, television, radio, Internet, and, in the past, newsreels.

Concepts of the appropriate role for journalism vary between countries. In some nations, the news media are controlled by government intervention and are not fully (or even partially) independent. In others, the news media are independent of the government but instead operate as private industry. In addition to the varying nature of how media organizations are run and funded, countries may have differing implementations of laws handling the freedom of speech and libel cases.

The proliferation of the Internet and smartphones has brought significant changes to the media landscape since the turn of the 21st century. This has created a shift in the consumption of print media channels, as people increasingly consume news through e-readerssmartphones, and other personal electronic devices, as opposed to the more traditional formats of newspapersmagazines, or television news channels. News organizations are challenged to fully monetize their digital wing, as well as improvise on the context in which they publish in print. Newspapers have seen print revenues sink at a faster pace than the rate of growth for digital revenues.

history of journalism

The earliest known journalistic product was a news sheet circulated in ancient Rome: the Acta Diurna, said to date from before 59 BCE. The Acta Diurna recorded important daily events such as public speeches. It was published daily and hung in prominent places. In China during the Tang dynasty, a court circular called a bao, or “report,” was issued to government officials. This gazette appeared in various forms and under various names more or less continually to the end of the Qing dynasty in 1911. The first regularly published newspapers appeared in German cities and in Antwerp about 1609. The first English newspaper, the Weekly Newes, was published in 1622. One of the first daily newspapers, The Daily Courant, appeared in 1702.READ MORE ON THIS TOPIChistory of publishing: Newspaper publishing“A community needs news,” said the British author Dame Rebecca West, “for the same reason that a man needs eyes. It has to see where it…

At first hindered by government-imposed censorship, taxes, and other restrictions, newspapers in the 18th century came to enjoy the reportorial freedom and indispensable function that they have retained to the present day. The growing demand for newspapers owing to the spread of literacy and the introduction of steam- and then electric-driven presses caused the daily circulation of newspapers to rise from the thousands to the hundreds of thousands and eventually to the millions.

Magazines, which had started in the 17th century as learned journals, began to feature opinion-forming articles on current affairs, such as those in the Tatler (1709–11) and the Spectator (1711–12). Appearing in the 1830s were cheap mass-circulation magazines aimed at a wider and less well-educated public, as well as illustrated and women’s magazines. The cost of large-scale news gathering led to the formation of news agencies, organizations that sold their international journalistic reporting to many different individual newspapers and magazines. The invention of the telegraph and then radio and television brought about a great increase in the speed and timeliness of journalistic activity and, at the same time, provided massive new outlets and audiences for their electronically distributed products. In the late 20th century, satellites and later the Internet were used for the long-distance transmission of journalistic information.

types of journalism

There are several forms of journalism with diverse audiences. Journalism is said to serve the role of a “fourth estate“, acting as a watchdog on the workings of the government. A single publication (such as a newspaper) contains many forms of journalism, each of which may be presented in different formats. Each section of a newspaper, magazine, or website may cater to a different audience. Photojournalists photographing US President Barack Obama in November 2013.Photo and broadcast journalists interviewing a government official after a building collapse in Dar es SalaamTanzania. March 2013.

Some forms include:

  • Access journalism – journalists who self-censor and voluntarily cease speaking about issues that might embarrass their hosts, guests, or powerful politicians or businesspersons.
  • Advocacy journalism – writing to advocate particular viewpoints or influence the opinions of the audience.
  • Broadcast journalism – written or spoken journalism for radio or televisionJournalists in the Radio-Canada/CBC newsroom in Montreal, Canada.

what is journalism ethics?

Journalistic ethics are the common values that guide reporters. They lay out both the aspirations and obligations that journalists, editors, and others working in the field should follow to execute their work responsibly.

Journalism ethics have evolved over time. Most news organizations have their own written codes of ethics, as do professional membership bodies. If a professional journalist or news organization transgresses these ethical standards, they will lose credibility.

What Are Some Different Codes of Ethics that Exist for Journalists?

Media outlets and journalism associations publish their own ethics codes that apply to their employees or members. These often offer more specific guidance on top of the standard principles. Some examples are:

  • The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics. The oldest journalism association in the United States, the SPJ aims to promote the First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of the press, partly by encouraging reporters to practice the high standards in its ethics code.
  • The Radio Television Digital News Association’s Code of Ethics. This U.S. membership body is specific to digital media. Its ethics code references common issues in internet publishing, such as how to respond to viral news and how to treat sponsored content.
  • The New York Times Ethical Journalism Guidebook. The New York Times has built its reputation on reporting the news “without fear or favor.” It prioritizes more contextualized news coverage and thorough fact-checking and publishes a comprehensive ethics code to support this.

What Are the Standard Ethical Principles for Journalists?

There are several key ethical standards that appear across global news organizations. At the highest level, they call on journalists to seek the truth, act in the public interest, and minimize harm.

  • Honesty. Journalists have an obligation to seek out the truth and report it as accurately as possible. This requires diligence: this means making every effort to seek out all the facts relevant to a story. Journalists should also corroborate any information with multiple sources.
  • Independence. Journalists should avoid taking political sides and should not act on behalf of special interest groups. Any political affiliations or financial investments that might constitute a conflict of interest with the subject they are writing about should be declared to editors and readers. Some organizations characterize this principle as “objectivity,” while others, especially non-profit civic journalism projects, reject this term, as they position themselves explicitly on the side of public interest.
  • Fairness. In addition to being independent, journalists should show impartiality and balance in their reporting. Most news stories have more than one side, and journalists should capture this. That said, they should not place two different perspectives on equal footing where one is unsupported by evidence. The exception to the impartiality rule is opinion writing, as well as “gonzo” journalism and creative nonfiction.
  • Public accountability. News organizations should listen to their audience. To enable the public to hold them accountable, journalists should write under their own bylines and accept responsibility for their words. When news outlets publish factual errors, they need to issue a correction.
  • Harm minimization. Not every fact that can be published should be published. If the amount of harm that could come to private individuals—particularly children—as a result of disclosure exceeds the public good that would come of it, then news outlets might choose not to publish the story. This is less of a consideration when it comes to public figures. It is huge, however, in matters of national security, where lives could be on the line.
  • Avoiding libel. This is a legal as well as a moral imperative for journalists. Journalists cannot print false statements that damage a person’s reputation. In most jurisdictions, true statements cannot be libelous, so journalists can protect themselves by rigorously checking facts.
  • Proper attribution. Journalists must never plagiarise. If they use information from another media outlet or journalist, they need to attribute it to them.

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